In both our careers, we have seen sales and marketing joined at the hip; although sometimes siloed, they have traditionally worked together in parallel. Today, as advisors in the strategic account management space, we are surprised and disheartened to see that marketing is often not only missing at the strategic account team table but also working from an inside-out products focus, rather than an outside-in customer focus.
In our work with best-of-class ABM organizations and next-generation thinking, as well as our work having led this corporate journey as practitioners leading marketing and customer-centricity strategy, we have identified two key insights on the subject
Insight #1: From marketing-led, sales-enabled to customer-led, team-enabled
Best-of-class marketing focuses on the customer. Most would agree. Yet when you look at account-based marketing campaigns, we often see a product-focused orientation that endorses a siloed, less customer-centric approach. This approach is typified by the marketing-led, sales-enabled construct, which was born out of the time-worn approach of “pull, push” strategies whereby companies simultaneously push their brand in front of an audience to build awareness and pull potentially interested customers into their pipeline.
In our work, we have reviewed the methodology whereby organizations have a marketing-led, sales-enabled approach, and what we have found is that little to no consideration is given to the customer, the customer buying journey or their satisfiers and dissatisfiers. As part of our customer buying journey mapping work, we have delved deeper not only into where the customer is headed, but what their state or mindset is at each given step as they progress on their decision making. For example, at one point in the journey, the customer may be ambivalent or frustrated. At another point, decision remorse may be setting in. This creates a customer who is connected to a transactional relationship rather than a true partnership. Could one, or all, of your strategic customers feel this way about your company and you? If you answer yes, then clearly a different approach is required. Additionally, the customer journey approach gives us a framework that brings a deep understanding of the customer’s point of view and their buying decision-making journey, rather than internal account management or campaign marketing.
Customer-led thinking, on the other hand, puts the customer as your central focus and then looks at which discipline of sales, marketing, or another e.g., executive engagement, is best suited to engage the customer where they are in their customer journey. These communication opportunities are key to personalized, targeted connections. Taking this approach optimizes the engagement between the strategic account manager and marketing in this co-orchestration of the account plan.
Let’s take a deeper look at the ever-popular campaign marketing (a.k.a., “awareness marketing”) packaged as account-based marketing. Even though marketing teams are starting to share insights rather than pushing products, they are still not connecting to what the customer is thinking and feeling at any given point on their buying journey. We also have noted the presence of separate workflows, which are often in conflict between the marketing campaign plan and the sales account plan. Even though teams have moved away from simply pushing products, they still are not aligned with what the customer values most.
For the customer, this lack of alignment between the supplier’s marketing and sales efforts, engagement and planning is noisy, disruptive and, above all, frustrating for customers. Next-generation customer-centric ABM relies on the customer buying journey to set the pace as to the points of communication, messaging and who within the commercial team is best to deliver each message. Doing this well will accelerate any SAM journey, differentiate your company from the competition and future-proof your business.